THE new owners of Darwen Football Club have pledged to invest £3million and build leisure facilities at the Anchor Ground for the community.

Property developers Ellie Batiste and Ted Ward want Darwen residents to be involved in the make-over as much as possible.

Proposals for the Anchor Ground site include a members' gym, leisure centre, restaurant and a conference centre, along with renovation of the stadium.

Miss Batiste said: "The ground is not very nice. It needs a lot of work and needs to be redeveloped.

"Most importantly, the building work will be done by Darwen people, suppliers will be from Darwen, building merchants will come from local traders. We already have Darwen architects involved.

"Darwen FC used to be the hub of the town and there's no reason why it can't be again.

"We have had so much support from residents. It has been heart-warming.

"It has showed we can make a success of this."

The couple bought the club from a friend, Kevin Henry.

Although they were not looking to get into football, they became very attracted by the challenge.

They have bought the club and the leasehold of the ground from the borough council.

Miss Batiste said they also planned to try to obtain the freehold from the council.

They now hope that their cash injection will build on the club's glory days of the 1880s, when it was one of the first teams to join the Football League.

Miss Batiste said: "We should look to embrace that history. It seems to be the poor relation to some of the other clubs in the area.

"Historical pictures show the ground was packed and there's still a big catchment area in Darwen.

"There's no reason why it can't be as great as it once was."

The couple hope to make the ground family- friendly.

Miss Batiste said: "When I went to a Darwen game I was surprised at how the crowd was male-dominated and as a woman I felt slightly alienated.

"We need to encourage families to the game if we are to start up a second generation of fans, otherwise, when the diehards go, who's left?"

Much of the £3million will come from the couple's property business, based in Manchester, but they are also looking for sponsors and other investors.

The couple have pledged to try to guide Darwen to the Unibond League within the next three years, and later follow in the footsteps of Accrington Stanley in to the Football League.

Miss Batiste said: "We are in this for the long haul.

"We want to make as much of a success of this as we can for the people of Darwen."

The plans must go before the council's planning committee before any work can go ahead.